To become a drone pilot, you must first choose the right course. In this article, we will guide you through the various operator categories to set your course.

How you intend to use drones will determine the type of drone and training requirements. The training requirements for drone flying are determined based on the level of risk involved. Therefore, drone flying is divided into different operator categories, each with different requirements for pilot competency. Most people who fly drones for hobby purposes will operate in the open category (low risk). This category is further divided into subcategories A1, A2, and A3. More advanced drone operations can only be carried out in the specific category (medium risk). The specific category includes operations such as flying beyond line of sight or above 120 meters above ground level.

Pilot and Operator

It's important to distinguish between a drone pilot and a drone operator. The operator is the one registered in the relevant operator category, and it is the responsibility of the drone pilot to meet the competency requirements of that category. A drone pilot who operates a drone independently will, therefore, be both the operator and the pilot. If you intend to fly a drone for commercial purposes, the business is usually registered as the operator. A comparison example could be a helicopter company that holds an operating license and employs qualified helicopter pilots.

Open Category

When flying a drone in the open category, you must keep the drone closer than 120 meters to the terrain and within line of sight (VLOS).

A1 (flying over people): Drone operations in subcategory A1 pose little risk to bystanders due to the drone's weight requirements. Although flying over people is allowed, it is not allowed to fly over crowds.

A2 (flying near people): Drones used in A2 have a maximum takeoff mass of 4 kg and must meet several product requirements. The horizontal safety distance from bystanders is 30 meters. This distance can be reduced to 5 meters if the drone is in slow mode.

A3 (flying far from people) - Operations are intended to take place in areas where no risk is expected to be posed to bystanders. The horizontal safety distance is 150 meters from outdoor, industrial, and residential areas. The maximum allowable takeoff mass in subcategory A3 is 25 kg, and the drone must meet specific product requirements (including DIY kits).

Operator and Pilot Competence in the Open Category

To fly drones in the open category, you must complete a mandatory A1/A3 online course and pass a web-based exam with 40 questions. Both the online course and the exam are entirely free and available on the Civil Aviation Authority's drone portal,

Pilots who wish to fly in open category A2 must also complete an A2 supplementary course and pass an A2 drone exam. This exam is conducted at one of the State Road Administration's traffic stations and consists of 30 multiple-choice questions. The exam covers topics such as meteorology, performance and technical subjects, ground risk reduction, and A2 drone regulations. In addition to the course and exam, there are also practical skill requirements through a mandatory self-training program. You can meet the self-training requirements by taking our A2 drone course.

Recommended courses:

A2 Theory (covers the curriculum for the A2 theory exam)
Theory and Practical A2 (covers both the curriculum and practical self-training requirements)
Specific Category

The specific category is an operator category with a varying risk profile. Drone operations conducted beyond the line of sight or above 120 meters above ground level fall into this category. Competency requirements will, therefore, vary depending on the risk associated with the drone flight. In the specific category, there are three different ways to operate:

Standard Scenario: The operator declares the operation according to a predefined standard scenario. (Rules for standard scenarios will first apply from January 1, 2024.)

Operator's License: If the operation cannot be carried out within the framework of a standard scenario, the operator needs an operator's license from the Civil Aviation Authority. This requires an operations manual that describes the type of operation, with risk analyses. Operators can use predefined risk analyses (PDRA) published by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). If the requirements of a published PDRA cannot be met, the operator must create their risk analyses using the SORA methodology.

Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC): An operator certificate that allows for the approval of their operations. This will require a comprehensive operations manual and a safety management system (SMS).

Pilot Competence in the Specific Category

The specific category covers drone operations with a varying risk profile. The level of risk determines the competency and training requirements. Drone pilots who operate under a standard scenario (STS) or a predefined risk analysis (PDRA) must meet the competency requirements outlined in the document. To operate under STS (01 and 02) and PDRA (S01, S02), you must complete an STS drone exam at one of the State Road Administration's traffic stations and pass a practical skills test at an approved drone school.

For drone pilots who operate based on the operator's risk analyses (SORA), there are competency requirements in certain subjects. You must have basic knowledge of drone regulations, airspace, safety, human factors, meteorology, navigation/maps, technical aspects of the drone system, and operational procedures. Passing the STS exam will document knowledge in these subjects.

Recommended courses:

Our basic course in the specific category covers the pilot competency requirements in PDRA and STS, as well as the fundamental theoretical requirements in SORA:
Pilot Course in the Specific Category
Drone Theory in the Specific Category (online course)
Other advanced courses:

Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Flying
Crew Resource Management (CRM)
Aeronautical Radiotelephony

Operators in the Specific Category

Operators in the specific category must be able to develop and maintain necessary manuals. If you do not operate under PDRA or STS, you must also be able to create risk analyses according to the SORA methodology. This risk analysis forms the basis of the operator's license and should address the risk profile of the operation and describe risk-reducing measures.

In-Demand Competence

Drones have quickly become a useful tool in several industries. Inspections of buildings and critical infrastructure can be made easier and more efficient, allowing for cheaper and more frequent inspection intervals. The data collected can also be used to create 3D models, perform mass calculations, and for documentation purposes. As a drone pilot, you gain a comprehensive overview, see your surroundings from new angles, and quickly become a valuable asset in the workplace. Most likely, you will also see a significant boost in both your mood and your CV.

Need help choosing the right course? Contact us; we are happy to assist you.

Still thirsty for knowledge on how to get started with drones? Follow the link to our free mini-course, Getting Started with Drones.

Sign up for our news letter